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Dec 18, 2018

The Turneffe Atoll is Under Threat

The Turneffe Atoll Trust today released the findings of a report it conducted on the Turneffe Atoll. That report shows that the marine reserve has sustained multiple damages and is threatened by harmful and improperly, unregulated development activities. Those include dredging, deforestation of mangroves and among other threats. The Turneffe Atoll Trust launched the report to share just how economically and environmentally important this site is to Belize and Belizeans – and how those benefits are being put at risk. Despite the fact that there are number of regulations and laws in place to protect this site, the report shows that there are projects that have not met requirements and there is a lack of oversight on the activities happening within the atoll. Andrea Polanco was at today’s launch and tells us more.


Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Thirty-miles long and ten miles wide – the Turneffe Atoll is located thirty-miles east of Belize City. This atoll is the biggest and has some of the most diverse species in all of the Caribbean. Back in 2012, it was designated a marine reserve.


Alex Anderson

Alex Anderson, Executive Director, Turneffe Atoll Trust

“Turneffe is considered the gem of the meso-American reef. It has been highlighted as the largest and the most biologically diverse atoll in the western hemisphere. It is roughly thirty-miles long and ten miles wide at the highest point. It has roughly over two hundred and sixty species of fish, seventy-seven different vegetation types, coral reefs, beautiful lush back reef flats and sea grass beds.”


And so this atoll’s environmental value is significant to Belize and it helps to sustain the livelihoods of many Belizeans.  This coastal marine ecosystem contributes than five hundred million dollars to Belize’s economy through fishing, tourism, coast-line protection and climate change mitigation contribution. The value of turneffe’s shoreline protection is estimated at over three hundred and eighty-two million Belize dollars; tourism benefits stand at over one hundred and fifty million dollars; and the sea grass ecosystem which acts as a major blue carbon sink and helps to reduce the release of greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet –is valued at six point eight million dollars.


Valentino Shal

Valentino Shal, Consultant, Turneffe Atoll Trust

“The atoll provides us with a lot of environmental goods and services. So, we are dependent on the atoll; the atoll is not dependent on us. We use it for fishing, for tourism, for sport fishing. In addition to those things we draw from the atoll, it also provides us with storm mitigation value especially for Belize City and of course it absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provides us with fresh air. These are very hard to quantify but we have made an effort to put a value on it. In total, the atoll, in our estimate, provides Belize with about five hundred and forty-million dollars worth of services every year in economic value.”


But this atoll is at risk – from unregulated developments; massive mangrove cutting; dredging and other pressures that have escalated in the last ten years. Since 2004, a tourism development project of almost one hundred rooms has been under construction on Rope Walk Caye which lies within the Turneffe Atoll – and researchers have not been able to find an EIA for this development. So, today member of the conservation community, led by the Turneffe Atoll Trust, gathered to release the findings of a study that was conducted called ‘Risking the Atoll’. Conservationists are pointing out the impacts of these unsustainable activities on the atoll – and how those irresponsible activities have direct consequences on the economic and environmental value of this site.


Valentino Shal

“One of the biggest impacts have been dredging– the most damaging activity has been dredging. There is dredging of some of the islands, but also dredging of back reef flats we call them. This is a special type of reef you find at Turneffe, so breaking them up and removing them in the scale that we saw, is definitely damaging. The other one that we saw is the removal of mangroves. Mangroves are very critical and important habitats, so removing them without permits is also very damaging to the area. We know that a lot of fishers also depend on the Turneffe and so mangroves play a very important role in the fishing sector by providing nursery for fish; so simply removing them is not just going to destroy the mangroves but have a downstream effect on the fishing sector.”


So, stewards of this atoll are calling on Government provide better oversight of Turneffe Atoll. They also want to see users be more responsible when using or developing within the atoll.


Valentino Shal

“We are asking that developers educate themselves about the rules and make sure they follow the rules. Any responsible developer should be concerned and interested in protecting the environment because their investment will also depend on that very same environment. No developer should be forced to follow the law but should be making sure that they are familiar with it and comply with it because it is in the interest of the environment but also in their own self interest to do so. We are also asking the government agencies to strengthen the monitoring of the area because they are the only ones that have the legal mandate to enforce the rules. Turneffe Atoll Trust does research; we don’t do any enforcement; that is left up to the government agencies. And, of course, the people who manage the area need to make sure that they are stricter with the enforcement of the rules of the area.”


Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.


Earlier today, we reached out to Chief Environmental Officer Martin Alegria about the developments out in the Turneffe Atoll, but we didn’t get a response.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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